Three is the magic number for Female Entrepreneur of the Year

Ciara Stanley, this year’s Powerhouse Female Entrepreneur of the Year, has grown and developed three businesses: Ballybar Ireland, Ardattin Embroidery and Coppenagh Farm House

Tom O’Neill, mayor of Carlow and councillor on Carlow County Council; Andrea Dalton, cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council; Melissa Doyle, business adviser Carlow County Council Local Enterprise Office; Awards MC Síle Seoige; and Coilín O’Reilly, chief executive of Carlow County Council with Powerhouse Entrepreneur of the Year Ciara Stanley (centre).

This year’s Powerhouse Awards was a celebration of the work, talent and accomplishments of female entrepreneurs in Co Carlow. But for this year’s Powerhouse Female Entrepreneur of the Year, Ciara Stanley, it was also a demonstration of the power of networking to support and bolster businesses – in Stanley’s case, no fewer than three businesses!

Stanley has grown and developed an embroidery business, Ardattin Embroidery; a country clothing line, Ballybar Ireland; and a thriving farm shop, Coppenagh Farm House. Her inspiring story shows the importance of vision, bravery and flexibility when it comes to running your own businesses.

After missing an opportunity to buy an embroidery business shortly after leaving college in 2009, Stanley had a second chance when she had the opportunity to purchase an embroidery machine. “At the time I was working in a pharmacy company, so embroidery was kind of like a hobby for a while. But I was winning more jobs and bigger jobs and finally had to make the decision to go for it.”

Leaving her job meant that Stanley, along with her husband Robert, could also develop some other fledgling businesses, most notably on their small farm in Tullow, Co Carlow. “We both worked as well, some might call the farm a hobby, but we still needed to make money from it. We began selling beef boxes, which proved to be very popular. We are fortunate in that we live only a mile from our butcher, who is able to slaughter and butcher our meat, so we have probably one of the lowest food miles product in the country. The taste and quality of the meat is excellent as a result.”

The Stanleys’ next move was to open a full farm shop. “We opened to coincide with the Tullow Agricultural Show, which is held just down the road from us, and got a lot of interest from people driving up to see the shop and visit the farm. The shop is located in the middle of the farm, so people drive into the farmyard and see everything when they visit, as we’re very much a working farm. It’s bridging that gap between the products on the shop shelf and where they came from.”

To be honest, I had no idea how a network would work, but as soon as I stepped into the first meeting, I knew that this was what I needed. The support is invaluable.

In May 2023, the couple opened a bigger shop, with a coffee box beside it. “We have a policy of stocking local food where possible, and 100 per cent Irish. The milk we use for the coffee is Carlow milk, and the cakes are made by a woman down the road. We want to highlight what we have on the doorstep. We’ve added pork and bacon to our meat offerings, along with our own honey from hives on the farm.”

When they decided to open a bigger shop, the couple looked at all their businesses, and decided that the most logical thing would be to put them all in the new building. “The embroidery business was doing well, and I was outgrowing the space at home,” Stanley says. “It made sense to put everything in the one place, so we included a studio and a store room in the plans.”

The new building would also house Stanley’s third business, Ballybar, as she explains. “We produce country-style work shirts, 100 per cent cotton and double stitched. They are very high quality and designed for the outdoor, agri, equestrian sectors. We now also sell to vets, dentists, photographers – anyone looking for a strong, well-made shirt.”

With a strong passion and instinct for supporting local businesses, joining Powerhouse was a logical next step for Stanley. “To be honest, I had no idea how a network would work, but as soon as I stepped into the first meeting, I knew that this was what I needed. The support is invaluable. You might be looking at something and just can’t get your head around it, but then someone says ‘oh yes, I did that last year and this is how it works for me’. Plus, you are getting your name in front of potential customers.”

Stanley says she was both humbled and incredibly grateful to be named Entrepreneur of the Year. “Those women in the room, they are incredible,” she says. “It didn’t really feel like a competition, more like a celebration and an opportunity for people to get up on stage and talk about what they do.”

For more on Ciara Stanley’s businesses, see http://coppenaghfarm.ie, https://ardattinembroidery.ie, and https://ballybarireland.com